From the tip, the Warriors looked more engaged and energized than they did in Game 2, remaining in control of much of the first half on their way to a halftime lead. The Warriors became more dominant as the game progressed, blowing out the Rockets in the second half on their way to as 126-85 win. The 41-point margin of victory was the largest for the Warriors franchise in the postseason while it was also the Rockets’ largest postseason defeat.
Steph strikes back
This game turned in a big way during the third quarter, largely because of Stephen Curry . In the third quarter, Curry found his offensive rhythm after continuing to struggle during the first half of Sunday night’s game. In that first half, Curry had nine points and was 3-for-11 from the field, including going 1-for-7 from three-point range. But in that third quarter, which the Warriors outscored the Rockets by ten points to push their lead from 11 to 21, Curry scored 18 of his 35 points while going 7-for-7 from the field.
Opening up the third quarter, Curry got three points the old fashioned way, taking advantage of some lax Chris Paul defense to get the basket and elicit the contact.
While Curry’s long distance shooting wasn’t quite there for the bulk of Sunday night’s game, he still made a point of driving and attacking the rim. Continuing to stay engaged and energized on offense eventually paid off as the metaphorical lid came off of the basket and Curry’s three-point shots started to drop.
When Curry made that three-pointer, you could feel the combination of relief and joy from both Curry and the Oracle crowd.
Curry followed that one up with another make from long distance, stepping back on James Harden and then capping it with this trademark shimmy celebration.
Curry was playing the incendiary style of basketball we’re used to seeing from him, energizing the sellout crowd in Oakland as only he can.
At one point in the third quarter, Curry reminded the Rockets and everyone watching just whose house they were in.
An easy to lip-read "This is my f****** house!' from Curry to the crowd after that floater.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 21, 2018
A better defensive effort from the Warriors
While Curry’s offensive explosion deserves the most attention in the Warriors’ blowout victory, another reason was their stellar defensive play. The Warriors’ defense forced 20 Rockets turnovers on Sunday night, leading to 28 Warriors points, while also holding the Rockets to 39.5% from the field and 32.4% from three-point range.
Throughout the game, the Warriors did a good job contesting the Rockets’ shots, forcing them into tough attempts or shot-clock violations because they couldn’t get a good look. The Warriors also did a great job defending the paint, leading to the Rockets missing numerous point-blank layup attempts.
The Warriors defensive effort showed not only in the relatively pedestrian games for Harden (20 points, 9 assists) and Paul (13 points) but in the sub-part performances of the Rockets’ supporting cast. While those players were able to get going in Game 2, they were kept in check during Game 3.
P.J. Tucker scored just six points after putting up a playoff career-high 22 points in Game 2. Eric Gordon put up just 11 points while Trevor Ariza was held to a paltry six points. If those players aren’t able to get going, even if Harden and Paul play better than they did on Sunday night, it will be very tough for the Rockets to beat this Warriors team.
One of the defensive standouts in the Warriors’ blowout victory was Kevon Looney. Once again as the first player off of the bench, the Warriors’ big man did a great job staying with quick players like Harden and Paul, not letting them get easy paths to the basket. Looney also did a good job around the rim, whether grabbing rebounds or contesting shots (he blocked two of them in his fifteen minutes of action).
Rookie Jordan Bell also saw some meaningful minutes in Game 3. Though he didn’t play quite as good as Looney did, he still held his own and came up with some good plays on defense.
Another steady Durant performance
While Curry’s impressive performance commanded the most attention (and rightfully so), Kevin Durant also played well in Sunday night’s win. Durant’s shot wasn’t there in the first half (he went 5-for-12 from the field), but nevertheless went into halftime with 15 points in part by getting to the free-throw line and making his four free-throw attempts. Durant finished Game 3 with 25 points on 9-for-19 shooting, going along with his 6 rebounds and 6 assists as he provided the complimentary scoring to go along with Curry’s electrifying output.
What we saw out of Durant, especially in that first half when Curry was still struggling with his shooting rhythm and form, was exactly why the Warriors went after him in that 2016 offseason. Durant provided consistent offense when the Warriors’ other explosive offensive weapons scuffled a bit. This was what plagued them at times during that 2016 postseason. With Curry not at 100%, there wasn’t a player who could consistently get buckets until he got back on track. With Durant, the Warriors have that kind of player.
In many ways, the Warriors and how they play resembles a musical group. Curry and Klay Thompson are the soloists, the virtuosos, the lead guitar players, whose expertise and talents captivate the audience.
Durant, meanwhile, is like the drummer, providing a steady beat that moves everything forward. Granted, Durant is one of the great ones (think Keith Moon, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, or Buddy Rich, to name a few), but he’s still the one who provides that rhythm on top of which Curry and Thompson can improvise and create.
When Curry gets going and Durant is there providing that rhythm, the Warriors can make some really beautiful music, which is what we saw in Game 3.
Draymond and Iguodala do the little things
Both Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green played well in Game 3. Iguodala scored 10 points, all of which came in the first half. This was very important as Curry still wasn’t on track offensively and the Warriors needed all the offense they could get. Here Iguodala gets the rebound off of his own missed jump shot and puts it back in for a dunk.
Iguodala’s defense was also strong in Sunday night’s win as the veteran found himself frequently switched onto Harden, doing a good job guarding the presumptive MVP.
Green’s performance was closer to his Game 1 tour de force as he again brought his impressive energy on defense, defending Harden and Paul and then switching to deal with the Rockets’ big man Clint Capela. Green was a particular force on the boards, as he finished Sunday night’s game with 17 rebounds to go with his 10 points and 6 assists.
Even though he fell short of a triple-double, Green did all of the things around the margins, the things that are the toughest to quantify but that play an enormous role in decided whether or not a team wins or loses a playoff game.
Also, I couldn’t find a good place to put this, but here’s Shaun Livingston absolutely crossing up Harden before going in for the dunk.
Harden defense at its finest pic.twitter.com/gGTcaYd2dv— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 21, 2018
Tough times for the Tuck Wagon
Well, like many a wagon train, the Tuck Wagon ran into some trouble headed out west.
In fact, here is actual footage of the Tuck Wagon during Game 3:
On Sunday night, the Hamptons 5 reminded the basketball-watching audience that they are the premier small-ball lineup, particularly in that impressive third quarter, as it shined on both offense and defense. It laid waste to the Tuck Wagon and left it smoldering on the side of I-880 just before the 66th ave/Zhone Way exit.
The series resumes on Tuesday night with Game 4 in Oakland, when the Warriors will attempt to take a commanding lead in the Western Conference Finals. However, they can expect to face a fired up and determined Rockets squad that will hope to even things up before going back to Houston for Game 5.
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